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Publication Date : 17-09-2012
The Japanese government appears to have given de facto approval for resuming construction of two nuclear power facilities, one in Aomori Prefecture and the other in Shimane Prefecture, according to remarks made Saturday by Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yukio Edano.
In a meeting with Aomori Gov. Shingo Mimura and heads of municipalities in the prefecture that host nuclear plants, Edano indicated the government plans to allow the projects to move forward.
Work at the Oma nuclear plant, being built by Electric Power Development Co. in Oma, Aomori Prefecture, has been suspended since the Great East Japan Earthquake, as has construction of the No. 3 reactor at Chugoku Electric Power Co.'s Shimane nuclear complex in Matsue.
If construction resumes at the two plants, it will be the first move toward building new nuclear facilities since the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami.
On Friday, the day before Edano's meetings with the local government leaders in Aomori, the government approved a new energy and environment strategy that aims to eliminate nuclear power by the 2030s.
The new policy sets 40 years as the maximum amount of time a reactor can operate. Under this rule, the reactors currently under construction would be allowed to operate until the 2050s, which means Edano's remarks appear to contradict the new zero-nuclear target.
The industry minister was quoted as saying during the meeting, "Our ministry has no plan to change government decisions that have been made regarding the construction of new reactors."
Edano's statement was interpreted as meaning the government would allow work on the two nuclear facilities to resume and for them to begin operating upon completion, if they were confirmed safe by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, set to be launched Wednesday.
Another nuclear reactor was also under construction before the Great East Japan Earthquake--the No. 1 reactor at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Higashidori plant in Higashidori, Aomori Prefecture. However, Edano was cited as saying that Tepco is not ready to consider resuming construction at the Higashidori plant, indicating work will remain idle there for the time being.
The government's new energy strategy stipulates that it will use all possible policy resources to "attain the zero nuclear target by the 2030s".
The strategy also includes a principle of "not allowing construction of new reactors or expansion of existing plants". No mention is made of how reactors currently under construction would be dealt with.
Construction of the Oma plant began in May 2008 and is estimated to be about 38 percent finished. The initial plan was for operations to begin in 2014. If work resumed soon, the plant could be finished in 2016, according to sources close to the matter.
Ground was broken for the No. 3 reactor at the Shimane plant in December 2005 and construction is almost completed.
Also in the meeting Saturday, Edano reportedly indicated the government would not change its policy on the spent nuclear fuel recycling programme.
While saying the government intended to complete construction of an interim storage facility for spent fuel in Mutsu, Aomori Prefecture, Edano reportedly reconfirmed the government's pledge not to build final disposal facilities for used fuel in the prefecture.
"The government is well aware of how difficult it will be to achieve the zero nuclear target," Edano was quoted as saying, "The new energy policy is meant to be the starting line of a process" toward ending nuclear power generation.
His remarks could be interpreted as meaning the government may reconsider the zero nuclear target, analysts said.
Gov. Mimura spoke with reporters after the meeting, saying, "The government has yet to release clear procedures to realise the zero nuclear goal, and we want clarification on whether the nuclear fuel recycling project is still needed."